Madison's Birthday:

June 8, 2010

From the Word:

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart." Jeremiah 1:5

"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." Psalm 139:13-14

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

I'm Thankful... A Long Time Coming!

...Much Overdue

I have been seeing people post their daily additions for what they’re thankful on Facebook over the past couple of weeks, and it has me thinking of all the many things I’m thankful for too.  I didn’t want to join in on daily messages late, but all those thoughts of course lead me to Madison, which in turn made me want to post a lengthy update on our blog (because it is long overdue).

CAVEAT – I am going to free type here.  I have many thoughts floating around in my head without any real direction.  I’m not going to proofread when I’m done.  It’s too much.  Find the heart of what I’m trying to say, and let that sink in rather than letting my poor grammar trip you up.  So, stick with me here and you might understand everything by the end rather than getting lost somewhere in the middle.

So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I am going to attempt to tell you all the things I’m thankful for with regards to Madison while attempting this update at the same time.

I am so thankful Madison was born in 2010!

For those of you that don’t know, Madison had to have another surgery this past February to correct some significant bladder issues.  Long story short, because of her Spina Bifida (and damage to her spinal cord), we are pretty sure Madison doesn’t feel the sensation to urinate (pee for us common folk).  Furthermore, as a result of having to catheterize her for the first six months of her life, bacteria took up permanent residence in her bladder.  So, since she never peed on her own and continued to reintroduce stagnant urine back into her kidneys, she was much more sick that Mandy and I could see on the surface.  Madison was fighting a nasty infection under the surface, and her only symptom was a suppressed appetite.  She went almost a whole year without gaining any weight.  Once we finally identified the culprit, her urologist at Vanderbilt told us she needed a vesicostomy (the crazy sounding surgery where her bladder is moved and opened up to constantly drain urine through a stoma in her abdomen (pee hole in her tummy!).  It sounds pretty dramatic, I mean really who wants a kid with a hole in her belly that constantly leaks pee?  And trust me here, pee has gotten into places nobody ever intended.  Anyway (trying to move forward), this surgery was exactly what her little body needed.  After some difficulties, she regained her appetite, began to put on weight, and her strength and energy markedly improved!

Now, I say all that to say this… Would this surgery have been possibly 50 years ago?  No!  Would it have been possible 30 years ago?  Maybe?!?!  What is possible this year?  YES!!!  The Lord planned Madison for these years, because the necessary medical procedures existed for her benefit.  Don’t misunderstand me here, God definitely wasn’t waiting on the medical profession to advance to a point where He felt comfortable in bringing Madison into the world.  He could heal Madison any way and any point in time He chose.  However, to His glory and her benefit, He chose her to be born now and to be treated this way.  A child with her type of Spina Bifida and symptoms born 50 years or further back, I wouldn’t give any chance of making it.  This was clear to me after reviewing some photos of Madison and matching up with what was going on with her medically at that time.  She was downright sick, but we couldn’t see it.  If those things had been allowed to continue, without divine intervention, they would have swallowed her.

Remember, I’m not even mentioning the surgery to close her spine, or the shunt placed in her brain here.  She was chosen for this point in history or HIS-STORY (think about it). 

I am thankful for car rides to Madison’s school every morning!

One of our initial concerns for Madison was where she would end up cognitively and socially.  Three-quarters of people living with her type of Spina Bifida have less than average intelligence.  Selfishly here, Mandy and I struggled with this because we’re educators.  Mandy’s an excellent teacher (won outstanding CTE teacher in the Southeast a few years back and was up for National Teacher of the year), and I work as a college administrator (I got a thank you card once), so education is an essential part of who we are.  The first year we had Madison, there were still large concerns of ours because she was delayed in so many areas.  Well, since many of you haven’t met Madison, let me announce to the world that these two areas are no longer of concern! 

Madison is the happiest person I know, and she is smart as a whip that is sitting on top of a tack that is sharp (again, think about it… if you give it some time, you’ll get there!).  She will love on anybody and is so sincere with her affection at such an early age!!!  Now listen, she’s a looker and daddy isn’t going to let her date until after menopause, but I’ll let her give you hugs and kisses galore! 

Besides her status as a budding socialite, here’s how sponge like brain works on the way to school every morning (I’ll play it out conversationally for you):

After leaving the house a driving for a few minutes:

Madison: “Daddy?” (in that sweet little voice)

Daddy (that’s me): “yes pooty” (don’t ask me why I call her pooty)

M: “What you doing?”

D: “Driving Monkey” I also call her monkey

M: “Daddy driving?”

D: “Yeah Nugget, daddy driving” nugget too… I’m pretty sure she going to have MPD

M: “Daddy, Ion (short for I wanna or I want to) sing ABC song”

D: “Okay Madison, but let’s say the ABC’s first okay”

M: “K”

D: “You start okay”

M: “K”  à “A”

D: “A”

To which over the next few minutes Madison will say her ABC’s (while getting caught up on M and N, but for the most part, she’s got ‘em down).  After she finishes, she reminds me of the bargain to sing the ABC song as part of the agreement to say the ABC’s first.  So, we sing the ABC song and she does her best to following along.  Now, here’s where it get’s precious after we sing the ABC song.

M: “Daddy?”  seriously, the sweetest voice you’ve ever heard

D: “Yes ma’am”

M: “Ion sing Jesus”

To which we duet Jesus Loves Me while driving to school.  After Jesus Loves Me, we will start the process all over with wanting the ABC song, daddy bargaining to say them first, and them encoring with Jesus. 

I have no more worries or doubts about that little brain! 

I am thankful for such a loyal family surrounding us

Just this past week, Mandy and I were asked to give (as briefly as we could) our history as a couple to our Lifegroup at church.   To sum it up, we know God brought us to Cookeville for some very specific reasons.  First, Mandy had some medical issues that we left unresolved in South Carolina that a physician diagnosed and corrected shortly after arrival.  Second, we found Stevens Street Baptist Church.  The people that make up this place adopted us.  Enough said.   Third, Cookeville is equidistant between our parents in Chattanooga and Nashville (which is great because at least our parents have to give us a little notice before driving up).  Finally, our ability to get Madison to Vanderbilt has been critical to her care and success. 

However, for this section, I am going to focus on the third installment listed above.  As I said, we have no genetic family here in Cookeville.  We have adopted brothers, sisters, moms, and dads… adopted through the Blood of Jesus Christ, for what other reason than because He adopted us than all these Cookevillians adopting us?  So, while we may have no genetic family here in Cookeville, make no mistake is assuming we don’t have Blood Relatives here.  They are everywhere.  They’ve got our back!  They tell me t this day (2 ½ - 3 years later), they continue to pray for Madison every single day.  I cannot even say that I have prayed for my own daughter every single day of her life, but I believe my family members when they tell me they have!  That’s family!  That’s the kind of family that only Christ could create. 

I want to drive this point home… some of you will know this, but let me remind/tell you all what this family of ours (and please understand that this also includes genetic families too) has done for us over the past three years.

The mountains of prayers aside, they have carried us.  At the same time we were dealing with Madison’s early struggles, I was out of work ¾ of 2010 for three spine surgeries.  I went months without getting paid, and our genetic and heavenly families provided.  After starting back to work, Mandy and I were hit with this sinkhole of medical debt.  Two of our sisters put together a Pampered Chef fire sell to help raise money for Madison’s medical bills.  People were so touched by this, they just ended up sending us cash without buying anything.  Well, we received the exact amount needed to remove Madison’s medical debt from our ledger.  Someone out there, please convince me there is no God?!?!?!  Finally, I shared privately with a friend of mine that Mandy and I planned to use our 2012 income tax refund to get hard wood floors in our home so Madison could use her walker.  However, that desire was taken from me when I needed to use that entire refund coupled with the donated money to cancel out all the debt.  Long story short, a week later, one of our friends a church brought me a check to cover most of the cost of new flooring.  We had to hold on to that money a little longer than desire, but praise God hard wood floors went into our home in October and for the first time ever, Madison literally walked through our house three weeks ago.  So, again I ask how big is your family?  You gotta mom/dad, brother/sister, grandma/grandpa, aunt/uncle, etc… Your family big with 10-15?  You should see my blood family, we run thousands deep, many of them I will never meet this side of heaven.  However, I will meet ‘em some day.  Believe that!

We cannot possibly be more thankful for our family, all of you!

I so want to keep going!!!!

If you have kept reading up to this point, all I want to do it keep typing.  My blood is pumping.  I am getting excited about someone reading this who doesn’t know about the Love of God, and I want to keep going.  However, I’m going to wrap here.

Pray big for Madison.  If you’re continuing to lift her up to God, don’t pray she walks, pray she runs.  Don’t pray she can learn to use her legs properly in spite of the fact she cannot feel her feet from her ankles down, pray she gets that feeling back (which all of her doctors tell us will never happen… however, these claims come from the same profession [even though different people] as the moron who recommended we abort her, and told us she would never be able to use her legs at all).  Don’t pray we will successfully reverse the vesicostomy and place a permanent catheter in her belly button, pray she gains control of her bladder so she can go pee like a big girl.  Long story short, don’t waste your time or prayers praying to the King of creation for things that are possible with human intervention.  Ask him for the crazy things for her that cannot be medically explained, but can be divinely explained quite easily. 

I want to desperately for Madison to meet and hug every person who has prayed for, given to, or cared for her.  It is something very special to be the parent of a little miracle that is loved by so many people. 

I wouldn’t want anything to be any different that the way it is exactly at this moment.  Everything has lead us all here to this exact point and time, for me to placed in the circumstances to write and care enough to write this message, for you to care enough to read this message, and then for you to be challenged to do something about this message.

If you know God and believe He sent His Son here to save us, thank him for every blessing and trial you’re currently in.  If you don’t know or believe yet (but you may know or believe this story), ask this phantom God dude to reveal the truth to you. 

Madison is going to change the world for forever (heck she already has).  I pray this message will somehow, someway lead someone towards accepting the gift Christ has to offer.

Only God can save, but this letter might stoke the fire just a little bit!!!

All my heart has to offer!


“God loved this world so much, He decided to send His only Son down here to save us so that we have life here to the fullest and especially for life after here”

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Nothing Wrong

Nothing wrong? Really? Those were my thoughts and words at Madison's 1 year check-up at Spina Bifida Clinic at Vanderbilt on Monday, 7/25. Other than our post entitled "Our Miracle has Arrived," the post from the day Madison was born, I don't think we've had a better title than the one for this post! We often don't hear that Madison is doing just fine and that there's nothing to be concerned about. Typically her reports are negative in nature, gloom and doom, you know. So, to get that response from all of her doctors almost made me skip while I pushed Madison's stroller out of the hospital to the car that day. Here's what made me think we were going to get bad news at Clinic...

As you might have read from my last post, Madison has had some weight gain issues lately. Her appetite has decreased significantly and her little body isn't growing like it should. Her pediatrician has been concerned and has attributed the weight loss to a persistent urinary tract infection (UTI) that didn't get fully treated. Since her June 27th check-up with the pediatrician, Madison has had 3 urine cultures done, all which indicated high levels of bacteria present in her urine. Pretty gross, I know, but Dustin and I have continue to be mystified as to how Madison could keep functioning so well, acting so happy, if she has a UTI. Now, is when I tell you that Madison doesn't have a UTI and urologically speaking, there is nothing wrong with her. Madison's urologists said that her cultures reveal that bacteria in Madison's body has colonized, which simply means, excess bacteria has formed a little gang in her urinary tract; that's why her urine cultures continue to show high levels, consistent with infection. It is likely that the in/out cathing we had to do on Madison when she was a newborn is what introduced an excess amount of bacteria that multiplied and grew. However, since Madison has not had any symptoms of infection, she does not have a UTI; she just has higher than normal amounts of bacteria in her system. She will always have the bacteria present but it does not pose a threat to her bladder or kidneys. In fact, her urologist said after looking at Madison's bladder/kidney ultrasound on Monday, that Madison has the bladder and kidneys of a baby without Spina Bifida! How amazing is that?!?!? So, to re-iterate...there is NOTHING WRONG with our sweet girl's urological system! God has removed this obstacle for Madison and restored her health!

Now, that still leaves the appetite and weight gain issue. At Clinic, they managed to work in a consultation with the dietitian, who is wonderful and gave us news we weren't expecting to hear about Madison...there is NOTHING WRONG! I sat there for a few minutes trying to reason through that because all I could think of was how Madison wouldn't eat, isn't gaining weight, and how that doesn't sound like there's nothing wrong. After answering a billion questions and telling the dietitian about Madison's eating habits, she explained to me what IS going on and her answer made me laugh. What it all boils down to is Madison is a control freak when it comes to meal time. You probably chuckled a little too just then because you know that this would be just one more trait in a long list of how Madison is a carbon copy of her mommy. But basically, Madison does not like it when we shove a spoon of food in her mouth, that's why she was holding it in her mouth, refusing to swallow, and then we'd have to dig it out and usually get bitten in the process. The dietitian said Madison wants to be able to decide for herself IF she wants to eat the food and WHEN she eats it. This is why she has developed a super close relationship with her sippy cup; she can control when she puts it in her mouth and how much she drinks. Plus, milk is a consistent taste as opposed to all the flavors of big people food we were exposing her to and she can still keep her eye on her surroundings when she drinks. Eating involves her using her taste buds and having to focus which doesn't appeal to her highness. There is nothing wrong with Madison physically that is preventing her from eating or growing, she just is super particular on how she goes about feeding herself. The dietitian recommended we try putting blobs of food on Madison's high chair try, no matter how messy, and just leave them there for her to experiment with and get familiar with. When, and only when SHE'S ready, she'll pick them up and feed herself and if she continues to do so, that's our cue she likes it and will be receptive to us feeding her. has worked like a charm. We've done exactly what the dietitian suggested and Madison has eaten better in the last week than she has in the last month. She has even gone so far as to try and grab the spoon out of my hand to try and feed herself with it. We have been decreasing the amount of liquids we give Madison because she developed a preference to drink rather than eat her calories and that isn't healthy for her. So, we're gonna continue to work on her with this and even though I'm gonna have to go back to making Madison's food, per the dietitian's recommendation, we will do whatever is necessary to help Miss Priss get adjusted to meal time and start gaining weight again. But let's be real...the moral of the story here is that we have one headstrong little girl on our hands who is gonna keep us on our toes.

It is so wonderful to be able to report that Madison is doing so well and that her doctors truly have no concerns for her at this time. Her therapist continues to marvel over Madison's progress and her neurologist remarked that her head circumference is perfect, indicating her shunt is functioning EXACTLY as it should be. Madison, in all her funny, quirky, prissy, sweet, and precious ways continues to be a living picture of God's grace and miraculous power. Not everyone can boast they've witnessed a miracle but we can. Our miracle sleeps in the back bedroom at our house, loves sweet potatoes, and wears the most beautiful smile. She has a mommy and daddy that think she hung the moon and a Heavenly Father that loves her even more.

I never forget that so many of you who read our blog pray for Madison, and will keep praying for her for a long time to come. I just hope what you hear and see that happens in Madison's life, every victory she has over her Spina Bifida, every stride she makes in her development, encourages you that your prayers are heard and that we serve a Living God that answers our prayers and works miracles. The Lord has known all along there's nothing wrong with Madison; it just takes us a little bit longer to understand.

Thanks for reading! We just wanna keep sharing about God's blessings in the life of our family.

Be blessed,


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Madison's Therapeutic Devices

Just thought I'd post a few pics of Madison doing some of her therapy. She has an excellent physical therapit, Christine Taylor of Theraplay, who works hard to help whip Madison into shape.
This is Madison in her walker. She took her first assisted steps on June 22, 2011. One has been ordered for Madison for us to have for home use. I better start padding the furniture. I think she'll be a wild driver like her Daddy!

Madison also has a stander. This is to help her learn what it's like to put weight on her feet. She has to stand it 2 times a day for an hour each time. It has wheels so we can push around the house, which she loves, and has a nice play area for toys on top.

This is a great pic of how the stander works. You can see that she gets strapped in at two points and you can also see that Madison got tired of standing and decided to nap standing up.

I hate that the rest of Madison's life will likely involve some sort of contraption or device. But I'm so glad equipment like this exists to help her. And I'm so blessed that we have a therapist like Christine that recognizes how truly special our girl is and works so hard to make her the best Madison she can be. She is going to do amazing things, people. I just know it!

Ironically, it's time to get Madison out of her stander for the night. Gotta go!


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Her Health in Question- Now We Have an Answer

This post is meant to serve as an update on Madison from recent events at her 1 year check-up with her Pediatrician.

Madison's 1 year check-up was on Monday, 6/27 and I'll confess that I just knew in my heart I was gonna get bad news about Madison's weight at that visit. Call it my mother's intuition or my ESP, but I had a feeling her weight was not going to be satisfactory. For about a month now Madison's appetite has slowly diminished and she has been very cranky at meal time. I was not bothered by this at first because she had two teeth come in within a week of each other so I figured the slowdown in appetite was because of that. But lately she's grown increasingly finicky over food and really doesn't eat much at all. But she loves her sippy cup with some milk or juice in it. Back to the doctor's visit. To my shock and horror, when I put Madison on the scale on Monday she weighed only 20 pounds and 6 ounces- that was 3 ounces less than she weighed 3 MONTHS AGO at her 9 month check-up. She had not gained a SINGLE ounce in a 3 month time period and had lost a few ounces at that. The pediatrician's growth charts indicate Madison should weigh upwards of 25 pounds by this point and be closer to 31 inches long- she measured 29 inches. So, yet again Madison has a deficit: 5 pounds and 3 inches.

As I suspected, the pediatrician was a little freaked out by the lack of growth and blurted out words I was not expecting to hear about Madison. She said, "This is a case of failure to thrive in childhood." Now, I fully embrace that I tend to be over-reactive and admit that every little thing freaks me out about Madison's health but give me a break!!!! She just said my child wasn't thriving!!!! I temporarily froze in my chair when I heard those words. Because I am not a medical professional and really had no idea what that meant my mind began racing with horrible thoughts. It was not a pretty picture of what was gonna happen to my poor little girl if she didn't grow. But the doctor quickly moved on and I struggled to snap out of my panicked mental state to listen to the rest of her report. She suspected Madison might have another urinary tract infection which would result in a decreased appetite and before I knew it she was giving me instructions to report to the hospital for bloodwork. Before we could go, the doctor wanted me to cath Madison for a urine sample they could test in house. Insert funny story #1 here: as previously mentioned I had to put Madison on the scale to weigh her at the beginning of our visit. What I didn't mention was that when it was time to weigh Madison, she took THE world's largest pee-pee while I was trying to take her diaper off and get her naked self on the scale. Pee was everywhere followed by a poop. The nurse stood there for 5 minutes waiting on Madison to finish her business so we could weigh her- seemed like an eternity. Because Madison had so thoroughly emptied her bladder during the weigh-in incident, I retrieved virtually nothing for a urine sample when I cathed her.

At this point it is important for me to insert that Madison developed a horrible urinary tract infection in April this year after a battle with a very nasty gastrointestinal bug. She quit eating all together, ran a fever, turned white as a ghost, had constant vomiting and diarhhea, and was lethargic for days. Scared us to death. As a result, we took a lovely trip (insert sarcastic tone here) to the ER for bloodwork and IV antibiotics. But the infection cleared and Madison became Madison again.

Back to the doctor's visit. After the doctor's check-up and diagnoses, the nurse returned with our hospital orders and the vile of urine for me to take to the hospital for testing. She said that because there was so little urine, they couldn't do a dip-stick test in-house and that the hospital would have to do lab work on it.

On my quick drive to the hospital I called Da-Da to inform him of our trip to CRMC and of course, began having flashbacks to our visit in April and how sick Madison got from that UTI. We arrived and went to the lab with our orders and they began working on Madison. I was asked for the urine sample and now I insert funny story #2: upon handing over the bag with Madison's urine sample the lab tech exclaimed, "There's nothing in here!" To which I thought, of course there is, they gave it to me at the pediatrician's office and put it in this special bag for me to carry over here- why would they send it with me if there wasn't anything in there? But she kept on commenting on the empty nature of the vile. So, I go look at it while she's holding it and sure enough- there's no urine sample in there. I immediately started feeling through Madison's diaper bag to see if the sample had spilled inside or if there was a hole in the transport bag that allowed it to leak out. But alas, there was no explanation for the non-existence of the pee pee. I'm sure to the lab techs it seemed odd because I was perplexed myself and began trying to offer explanations for why there was no sample. The more I tried to explain to the lab techs the more curious they got. I thought to myself- do they think I stole my daughter's pee? What would I have done with it? Do they think I dumped it out? Do they think I would knowingly bring an empty vile here for testing? I don't know what they were thinking but I knew the pee pee was gone and there was none for testing. What a mystery.

Anyways, Dustin and I suggested we cath her again to see if we could get another sample if they could provide us with a cath kit. Thankfully, I had filled up Madison's sippy with juice before we left that morning and had been giving her some throughout the morning to combat her boredom and fussiness during the doctor's visit and immunizations. That was the smartest thing I did all day because Madison was full to the brim and her second cath of the day was much more successful in producing a sample, so much so we almost had another incident like the one I mentioned earlier. After the cath and drawing Madison's blood we were dismissed and sent home to wait for two days on results.

That brings us to today, 6/29. The pediatrician's office called me this morning and reported that all bloodwork was normal (praise the Lord!) but that Madison does indeed have another urinary tract infection. Which is shocking to me because for the past two months since her last one, Madison has been the happiest, funniest, most care-free baby ever, a stark contrast to her behavior when she got her first UTI in April. She's had NO signs of illness: no fever, no vomitting/diarhhea, no lethargy, no paleness- none of the symptom that accompanied the UTI before. The decrease in appetite is the only thing we've noticed. But her doctor believes the previous UTI may not have totally cleared and has been continually aggravating Madison's little body to the point it has suppressed her appetite, thus resulting in the lack of weight gain. And let me go back to that "failure to thrive" dianosis for a minute. If you've never heard of it, like I hadn't, it's a term given to children who cease to gain weight or grow in length for a period of 3 consecutive months or drop 2-3% below the healthy growth curve, both of which Madison has done. It can be serious if left untreated, affecting physical, cognitive, and social development but the doctor believes this persistent UTI is the only thing affecting Madison and that once finally treated, she'll be able to pack on the pounds and leave that awful diagnosis behind.

Within an hour of receiving word from the pediatrician about test results, Madison's urologist from Vanderbilt called me at home. They had already received word of the urine culture/results and were calling to check on her (gosh, I love that place) and say they would do some follow-up testing when we go to Spina Bifida clinic in July.

So, what have I learned from this latest scare with Madison:
1. Pee happens. Just be prepared with lots of wet wipes and disposable pads.
2. Juice in the sippy can be a life-saver- I'll never leave home without some from now on.
3. It's never gonna get easier to see my precious girl get poked and prodded by medical professionals. I wanted to tear her away from them while they were drawing her blood. She cried as if they were literaly drawing the life out of her.
4. Pharmaceutical companies are making serious bank off the Rawls family. Madison's got a new antibotic for the UTI and I'm sure she'll get a new prescription regimen from her urologist when we visit Vanderbilt next month.
5. Don't jump to conclusions about medical diagnoses when you hear them. Let the doctor explain them in detail, ask questions if you don't understand, and stay off the internet unless reading from a medical facility's site such as Vanderbilt, John Hopkins, etc.
6. UTIs are probably going to plague Madison for the rest of her life due to the Spina Bifida and its affect on her bladder, kidneys, and bowels. We likely will make many more trips to the hospital for instances like this. Therefore, please continue to pray for her daily healing and growth.

We are hopeful this infection will be cleared quickly and Madison can begin to put on weight and grow like she's supposed to. We have a couple of follow-up appointments scheduled over the next month so I'll be sure to update the blog with her progress in this situation.

As always, thank you for the prayers you say for our family and our sweet Madison. We are continually encouraged by them and praise the Lord for you for offering them- Phil. 1:3.



Wednesday, June 8, 2011

She's One

Well, today is the day. Madison Grace is one year old today. And to say that time has flown by this past year would be a huge understatement. As a fair warning to you the reader, I must declare my intent to vent in today’s entry. I have many thoughts, reflections, feelings, and emotions surrounding this day and the past year. Some things I say may shock you, break your heart, or make you smile. I don’t know how you will respond to my entry but I must express all these emotions I have. As with other posts of mine, it’s lengthy. Get settled. Here goes…

It is so cliché to say that it seems just like yesterday we were driving to the hospital to have Madison but that’s exactly what it seems like. In looking back on June 8, 2010, I remember such an overwhelming sense of excitement as we anticipated Madison’s arrival. Somehow I managed to push all my worries and anxiety over Madison’s Spina Bifida to the back of my mind that day. I was just too excited to be giving birth and meeting for the first time the person who was going to change my life. The countless doctors’ appointments, diagnostic tests, ultrasounds, and discussions we had endured in the nearly 7 months prior to Madison’s birth had escaped my mind that day, at least for a little while. Amazing how something we had been so fixated on and had so much anxiety over could disappear so quickly. But I woke up that morning and prepared myself to welcome our first child into the world just like any parent would, with no regard for what would happen after Madison arrived. In retrospect, I consider that a gift from God that He would allow me to experience Madison’s birth the way I did and clear my mind long enough for me to enjoy that time and have such joy and peace in my heart.

In the past twelve months since Madison’s birth, I certainly have never lost my joy over Madison or what a gift she is, but I am human and I have struggled, wrestled, and fought to overcome the intense waves of emotion I have experienced as a mother of a child with special needs. Most of my days as Madison’s mommy are great days- days when I enjoy every minute with her, go through our daily routines, and say my prayer of thanksgiving for her each night as we lay her down to sleep. Those are great days. But there are days, dark days, when I feel defeated and frustrated that we are living this life with a child the world will always label as different, disabled, special. I am ashamed to admit these days still creep up on me but I am just being honest. I will forever in my heart grieve over the challenges she will face and hardships she will have to endure. Unless you are a parent of a child with any kind of exceptional need, you will never know what it is like to spend countless hours trying to teach your child to do the simplest of tasks that everyone else’s children can do without any effort. Nor will you feel the anguish I have felt when I watch opportunities and experiences pass my child by because she cannot participate. Madison has the most beautiful smile and sweetest spirit that some will never take the time to see because they won’t see past her disability. Already in her first year, I am physically and emotionally exhausted from all the doctors’ visits, therapy sessions, and workouts I’ve had to take Madison to and put her through. I just wanted to have a child, be a mommy and that be that. But instead I’ve watched my baby endure two huge surgeries, hospitalizations, struggle to achieve the most basic of physical functions, and miss most of her developmental milestones. Madison still cannot sit without assistance nor can she crawl, pull up, or stand. What is probably more frustrating about this is that I simply have to accept it as part of her disability when I know that if it weren’t for her Spina Bifida she could do all of these things and more. It’s enough to drive me crazy if I let it. Ultimately, one of the biggest things I’m struggling with today, on Madison’s 1st birthday, is that the challenges have not diminished- they’ve just changed. I couldn’t help but notice that at 10:22 a.m. on June 8th last year, Madison was entering the world and a year later on June 8th at 10:22 a.m. she was at physical therapy strapped into a contraption designed to help her stand. I so desperately desire for Madison to make improvements and just once for her to be right on track, not behind. Just once to be challenge-free, just for a while to not have special needs. This is of course, selfish talk, but I can’t help it. Over a year after her diagnosis I’m still trying to cope with it all. Sometimes I just cry out, “Lord, why won’t you give my baby the strength to stand?!?!? Why must she be behind?!?!?” After all of these thoughts I instantly feel ashamed for complaining and guilty for not treasuring all the wonderful qualities Madison does possess. I also am immediately reminded of the verse from Jeremiah 29:11 that I know well, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” God has a perfect plan for why I have endured and will continue to experience all these emotions surrounding Madison’s special needs but this verse also appeals to my motherhood. This verse also tells me that my child is so important to her Creator that He has already made plans for her special life, and that she has a future full of hope in those plans. That is so comforting to me and helps me reign in my emotions when I am tempted to wallow in the pit of despair I often create for myself.

Though I struggle to live out these plans God has set before me and my daughter, there is one thing I will never doubt nor ever forget about Madison Grace- she is a miracle. Someone once heard me refer to Madison as a miracle baby and asked me why she was. See if this qualifies as miraculous to you. Spina Bifida lesions that develop on the spine typically affect the area at the lesion and below it, usually resulting in paralysis from there down. Madison’s lesion was at the L5/S1 area of her spine, the lowest part. We were told to expect no leg movement, coordination, or feeling in Madison’s legs. Minutes after she was born and was being wheeled to the NICU, Madison’s isolette made a stop in the waiting room for family and friends to see her for the first time. They cried as they saw the blanket move when Madison kicked her little legs for the first time as if she was demonstrating that she was ok- she had overcome the doctors’ prognosis- she was not paralyzed. She also has been given a clean bill of health from her urologist who said she has the kidneys and bladder of a normal baby, unlike many children with Spina Bifida who have issues well into adulthood. For now, Madison requires no catheterization and appears to have no incontinence issues. At therapy three weeks ago, Madison pushed herself up onto her knees from a seated position, a skill which her therapist said means she has high level muscle function that is not typical of a child with Spina Bifida. All of those things combined with the fact that Madison is a sharp, extremely social, doesn’t miss a thing kind of girl demonstrates to me that God performed a miracle in Madison. She shouldn’t be able to move like she does. She’s not supposed to be off a cath schedule. She’s not supposed to be communicating and playing like she does. Spina Bifida should have created physical and cognitive challenges that Madison could not overcome. But she has. This picture below is one of my favorites we have ever taken of Madison.
It paraphrases Psalm 77:14- which is in small print under the text-which says, “You are the God who works wonders; You have made known Your strength among the peoples.” Is Madison not the epitome of this verse?!?!? Dustin and I, nor the many doctors, therapists, or special equipment are responsible for Madison’s miraculous outcomes. “Praise be to the LORD God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvelous deeds” Psalm 72:18. So, even though I struggle as I described earlier, I never forget that Madison has made tremendous progress and that God is still working on her.

Having said all of that, I must move on to what you were probably expecting to read in this birthday post- the good, fun, happy things. Side note- I am going to post her 1st birthday party pics separately from this entry. Some of you that read this blog have never met Madison and may never meet her. The rest of you know Madison but don’t get to interact with her like Mommy and Daddy do and therefore do not fully know the extent of her preciousness. The first year of Madison’s life has been nothing short of life-changing for us. We fell in love with her instantly upon meeting her and that love grows stronger every day. Her smiles at first were involuntary. Now, she beams at the sight of Mommy and Daddy and I swear there is no greater feeling than knowing I make my daughter happy. She reaches out for me and is calmed by my singing, my touch, and my embrace. She loves it when I flip my head up while drying my hair upside down so much that she squeals with delight. Madison, unfortunately, loves it when anyone drops anything or gets hurt. She laughs at the mention of the words “uh-oh” and she chuckles when she burps or toots (which she gets from her Daddy for sure!). Madison loves music and loves to be sung to which I am most happy to do for her. I’ve watched her develop quite the little personality over the past year which is partly mischievous, perfectly adorable, and particularly funny. She loves to be the center of attention, she NEVER misses a thing, and she is always on her best behavior, no kidding. The title of world’s best snuggler no longer belongs to Dustin as Madison has taken over in that area. She yanks her bows out of her hair now and her feet touch the back seat when she rides in the car- both signs that my baby is turning into a big girl. The things I love most about Madison being 1 are:
1. She can hold her own sippy cup and feed herself with it.
2. Laughter is contagious for Madison- she laughs in response to our laughter.
3. She understands the tone of my voice, whether it be stern or playful.
4. I no longer have to take her car seat into restaurants. She’s a big girl who can sit in her hook-on high chair.
5. She finds enjoyment in toys and books and it’s precious to watch.
6. Table food and whole milk have replaced homemade baby food and horribly expensive formula. AND
7. Madison loves to gab and makes all kinds of noises. I love a girl who loves to be social!
The things I love about Madison that have not changed over her first year are:
1. She wakes up happy every morning.
2. Tummy time is still Madison’s #1 enemy. It’s almost funny to watch her face turn angry when she realizes she’s being put on her tummy time mat.
3. Madison is all about routine- whether it be feeding, bathing, bedtime, etc. She has a schedule and she sticks to it like no other. She is definitely my child.
4. She still has lots of hair. Except now it’s getting curly in the back and on the sides. Dustin gets credit for the curls.
5. My heart flutters every time she smiles.

Madison has given me joy that I did not know existed until she came into my life. I don’t know how I lived without her all the years before she was born. Daily she teaches me great lessons in patience and love. In my first year as Madison’s mommy I have learned that God is in control, not me; my circumstances are of God’s design (Ephesians 1:11-12). All of these trials associated with Madison and her seemingly imperfect body serve a purpose. I have learned that being Madison’s mommy is the greatest job and most awesome task God has ever set before me- it is what I was born to do. I simply cannot imagine what God has in store for Madison as she embarks on her second year. I pray it brings strength, and growth, and breakthroughs for her. I pray God continues to break down my stubbornness and desire to control the circumstances that are truly beyond my control. Most of all I pray that her life bring glory to the One who created her. I can’t wait to see how the Lord will continue to grow Madison into the most amazing little girl He has planned for her to be. I’m just so blessed to be a part of her life and His plan for her.

I’ll end with some credits, so-to-speak, people and things Dustin and I are most thankful for over this past year of Madison’s life. These were part of the video tribute Dustin and I made for Madison recapping her first year.

Special Thanks To:
-Dr. Paige Gernt
-Vanderbilt University Medical Center
-Junior League Center for Advanced Maternal Fetal Medicine
-modern medical technology
-Dr. Bennett
-Dr. Tulipan
-health insurance (although we still owe a ton)
-Goodyear tires and Stella (our Toyota Camry)- for safely getting us to and from Nashville for our many trips to Vanderbilt
-the manufacturers of headbands and hair bows
-our trusty food processor- for holding up through all the baby food-making
-the people who read and/or stalked our blog
-the many people who prayed for our family
-our church family and our CIC lifegroup family of Stevens Street Baptist Church
-our family and friends
-our parents who always loved, encouraged, and supported us whenever we needed it over the past year and a half
-God- His grace and mercy never ceases to amaze us- Madison is a good and perfect gift from Him- Thank you, Lord for Madison Grace

Til next time,

~Mandy, Mommy of a 1-year old

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Master's Degree and Mother's Day

So, today was the day. My first Mother's Day. Always wondered what this day would feel like and though it was pretty uneventful, it has been an awesome day. Last year at this time I was exactly 30 days away from giving birth to the little miracle that would make me a mommy and allow me to experience Mother's Day from a mother's perspective this year. Altogether the weekend has been spectacular as yesterday I got to take my daughter to TN Tech for her to watch mommy walk across the stage and earn her Masters Degree. I just kept thinking the whole time we were taking pictures afterwards...I can't wait to show Madison these pictures one day of me holding her in my cap and gown and explain to her what that day meant. My story (many years in the future) will go something like this...

Madison...Mommy and Daddy feel very strongly that education is important to the success of an individual. For that reason and because God gave us the desire to learn, we both went to college to get our undergraduate degrees. And while Mommy always wanted to get her Master's, things just never worked out for me to go back to school. We had moved twice, gotten new jobs, bought a house, and had many many back surgeries in between. But Mommy never quit wanting to go back to school. Daddy, on the other hand was able to earn two more degrees because God provided opportunities for him to go back to school for free at two universities. Well, all in the Lord's timing circumstances made it so that Mommy could start her Masters program at TTU. In August of 2009 I enrolled and began my first set of classes. And I LOVED it! Loved the reading and writing, studying, everything. I was just so glad to be able to be a student again. And then everything changed. Two months after starting graduate school I found out we were expecting you. And while this would have been no biggie for most, as you know, my pregnancy with you was anything but normal. The stress of grad school paired with the anxiety over my precious girl's condition, mixed with the responsibilities of full-time teaching was just too much for me to handle. My doctor made me withdraw from grad school immediately to focus on your health and mine. Funny how something you can be so excited about one minute can be the very thing you dread the next. Grad school became nothing but a big dark cloud hanging over my head that imposed deadline after deadline and no longer did I have that sense of excitement about completing my degree. But graciousness after graciousness was extended to me by each of my 4 professors at that time, who all agreed to let me finish my 4 classes in the fall semester after you were born. Well, that was great except that Mommy had to go back to work in the fall while trying to juggle those 4 classes plus 3 new ones I had to take. Fall of 2010 was THE worst semester of my life. My stress was at a whole new level and I resented ever going back to school because all the work, and all the assignments I had to complete were keeping me away from the only person I wanted to spend time with...YOU! By the grace of God, though, the semester ended and I moved on to the next one where I had just one more class to finish. Just days before graduation I received word that my amazing professor who had helped me and encouraged me through all of the trials of grad shcool, had finished editing my final paper and it was DONE! I was going to graduate. So, the day before Mother's Day in 2011 I dressed you up in your finest purple attire and took you to TTU to watch me get my Master's Degree. My cap and gown in the picture is the outward symbol that I succeeded...I perserved...I didn't quit...I earned something that I valued greatly- more education. When I started the Fall of 2009 I was simply a wife and teacher. In May of 2011 I walked across the stage still a wife and teacher but added the title of graduate and most importantly "mother" to my accomplishments. Amazing what the Lord can do in such a short amount of time. The End.

Although I am proud of myself for making it through an incredibly difficult year and a half of grad school, my degree pales in comparison to the joy and pride I feel in my role as Madison's mommy. Her "come get me" arms that stretch out to welcome me each time I come close to her and her beautiful eyes that speak to me and say, "I love you to pieces, Mommy" have made Mother's Day and every day ones I'll always treasure. That magical cuddle spot that only I can give her when I tuck her in my arms and close to my heart confirms every time that I am the mommy God chose for Madison and she is the precious gift God created just for me.

Thank goodness Madison's love for me will not end tomorrow when this Mother's Day is over. Thank God He knew exactly when and how He would allow me to enter into motherhood and equip me with the love and strength and abilities to parent Madison. Thank God He entrusted her to me. He knew that my "won't quit" attitude that got me through graduate school would be the very kind of perserverance Madison would need to overcome her challenges as she grows older.

For all you moms who have read this, hope you had a wonderful Mother's Day. Thank you for all the kind Mother's Day wishes I received from many of you who realize just how special my Madison is and that she made today a most wonderful one for me.

Blessings to you all,


Monday, April 4, 2011

9 Month Pics of Madison

I'm posting the link to the site that Madison's 9 month pics are on. To view our photos you have to enter Madison Rawls as the name to find photos then view the 9 months album. The pics are awesome and so perfectly captured Madison's sweet and funny little personality.

Enjoy! I am mesmorized by her true beauty when I look at them. And then I say to myself, "I am so blessed to be part of this precious little girl's life!"